Rest in Peace, Greg.
Greg O'Neil, Mill Manager for Lanterman's Mill in the Mill Creek MetroParks system, passed away three days ago, at the mill. A great guy, he will be missed. Greg revived the Olde-Fashioned Christmas Show, but more importantly, he kept Lanterman's Mill a working mill, grinding wheat, corn and buckwheat. Other mills are museums--Lanterman's grinds! That's not a bad legacy.
It was a well-known image in the Middle Ages, as well as from the Tarot. The Wheel turns—now you ride high, now you sink.
I think there’s a Wheel for artists and writers too—especially those who both write and create 2D & 3D art. And in my case, work with fiber. I don’t think it’s possible to experience Writer’s Block and Artist’s Block at the same time. Spinner’s Block? Weaver’s Block?
2022 was surely a fiber-ascendant year: I took part in the Tour de Fleece and the worldwide Spin Together. (I spun my way to 5th place in the yarn spun on a drop spindle category.) My two Textile Tapestries won ribbons in the Canfield Fair Fine Art Show, a donated needlefelt raised money for Ukraine. I sold my hand-woven rugs at Lanterman’s Mill’s Olde Fashioned Christmas.
This year? Spin Together won’t take place till spring of 2024. My Textile Tapestries were juried out of a regional art show. All of my backlist books are in print from KDP, and it’s time to plan new writing.
But it bids fair to be an Art year: I’ve been honored with Featured Artist status at Confluence, the Pittsburgh Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Convention. I’ve designed the art for the t-shirt, which is adapted for the program cover. To draw attention to the Confluence Art Show, I’ll have a display of all the types of art I create. Remembering that ironically, I started writing Fantasy as a way of breaking into illustration. And nine books later…I did finally get to paint my cover art, for Thistledown and Wizard’s Destiny.
I’ve also drawn maps (Cathy Hester Seckman’s Right Side/Wrong Side), designed t-shirts, cut stencils in at least 100 Celtic and Fantasy designs. I demonstrate pastel painting every year at the Canfield Fair, and I have just agreed to demonstrate at the Art Show of the Ellwood City Festival. I will demonstrate hand-spinning at the Hermitage Arts Festival, and at Briar Brook Barn, both of those just before Confluence. The Wheel turns…
This is the beginning of a rag rug made from several pairs of sleep pants. It came out 21 inches wide and I think 4 feet long, and it is soft as butter. Now, it's on the Gear Floor at Lanterman's Mill in Mill Creek Park, Youngstown, Ohio, waiting for Saturday and the start of the Olde-Fashioned Christmas in the historic grist mill. If you're in the area, stop by! The crafters are there Saturday and Sunday, but I can't guarantee that this great rug will be there too long! All my rugs are one of a kind, and woven from recycled materials on my Union 36 carpet loom.
Spin Together 2022
“Spin Together is about the joy of spinning and the opportunity to share that joy with others who also like to spin.” Spin Together is a celebration of Spinning & Weaving Week, a team-based competition that ll takes place online. Over 500 team members participated, from 11 countries.
Noon on October 1, 2022 to Noon on October 8, 2022. Your local time. Spin where you want, as much as you can, whatever fiber you want. Then measure your yardage, report to your team captain. And in between support your teammates and form a community.
I had participated in 3 Spinzillas, so I knew the fiber I’d spin—Chevy, the ram at the Chardon Farm Park. I had plenty of it cleaned, dyed and ready to card. I took part in Tour de Fleece for the first time this year, and I liked the Facebook group format for forming community. Now, to choose a team as they formed up. I didn’t want to join anything ultra-competitive, and feel like I was letting the team down—I do work full-time, so I can’t spend 10 hours a day spinning. Some teams might be able to meet in person, or by Zoom. Again, might not fit my schedule. Anywhere in the world, remember? Choose by name? Wool Witches, Dances With Wool, Twisted Spinners. Clever, clever. I chose Team 52 Weeks of Sheep. They are based on a Facebook Group (public) and created a Facebook Group for the team (private.) Easy to make connections, and so much information about sheep!
Teams could have 25 members, tops. We had 11. Pretty sure we were all in the US, but I really only know where 3 of us were—and I’m one of the three. But we started connecting, sharing plans for what and how we’d spin. Spindles, wheels, e-spinners. And we started encouraging one another.
Because, you know, life happens. Illness, accidents, sick pets, equipment issues, work schedules. Best laid plans.
That week, I spun 1,410 yards of woolen yarn and made a skein of Art Yarn. I mainly used my bottom-whorl drop spindle, but at the very end I broke out my Scottish dealgan and tested how much I might be able to spin in the final 15 minutes before noon. (11 Yards, as it happens.) I didn’t waste time taking the last singles or plied yarn off the other spindles.
Five days to report yardage to your captain. Then the captains report the yardage. Then the teams wait for the results to be tabulated. Meanwhile, there are the two contests members can enter and vote on: Most Beautiful Skein and Wildest Art Yarn. I entered both.
And then more waiting. But at last the results came up. Most Beautiful Skein: there were five pages of beautiful yarns up for vote. No way I was getting that. But maybe Art Yarn, I had a chance. I mean I had handspun, scraps of dupioni silk, locks of wool, yarn that’s partly Chevy and partly a sheep he sired. Wild. Named it “Dragonspun.” Nope.
Well how did Team 52 Weeks do? I started to scroll down the results. Before the Team stats came results by method. Some spinners use spindles and wheels. Some use just one method.
First came “Highest Yardage on a Spindle.”
1st place: 2,945 yards. Well over a mile (1760)
2nd: 2,379 yards. Well over a mile. My best ever was a mile and a quarter.
3rd: 1,752 yards. Now we’re in my range. If only I’d filled my spindle a couple more times…
4th: 1,530 yards. If only I’d spun another hour…
And then: I realized there was a 5th place. And it was me! 1,410 yards for the honor of Team 52 Weeks of Sheep and a couple of cool fiber prizes. I wasn’t the high yardage spinner for my team, but I was the only one spinning exclusively on my drop spindles.
In that first week of October, spinners spun 1,794,813 yards. The top wheel spinner did 49,077 yards. The top e-spinner made 61,515 yards. Our team yardage was 10,732 yards. Over 30 teams, and we weren’t last! (Always my cherished position when running Fun Runs with various dogs.)
And we had a lot of fun. We shared, we supported, we learned how much we could create, as we spun together!
Thou shalt fly without wings
“Retirement home available for deserving gelding. Know a special guy at the end of his show career? You don’t really have the stall space, but you don’t want him to go just anywhere?”
I put that out on my vendor table at the Summer Classic Arabian Horse Show, Harlansburg Show Grounds, in 2004.Put it out to the universe that, after losing Max the year before, I was ready to look for another Arabian. (Was that the year we had a loose horse right outside the vendor tent, and I wondered whether she’d fit in my Civic Coupe? I always kept a halter and lead rope in my car, but in fact, all we vendors did was make sure she didn’t head toward the road while her owner came up with a can of grain and her halter.)
Just before Christmas, 2004, a woman called to say a horse had just come in to Henderson Equestrian in Butler, and they thought his situation was precarious due to his owner’s health. Was I interested in meeting him? A bay with a star.
Day after Christmas, the freezing cold arena at Henderson, and they walked him toward me. That big white star on his forehead shone like a beacon. His name was Cash. A 17-year old Polish Arabian. When he shed out, he had tiger-stripes on his front legs, a nickle-sized black body spot on his left side, and ermine spots on both hind heels. Three white socks, varying heights.
He was my gigolo—good looking, did nothing that might be called work, I paid all his bills. His manners were impeccable—no biting, never saw him kick, no stepping on me. An aristocrat of mixed Polish and Egyptian bloodlines, foaled at the end of the Arabian boom, and named Cashoggi after Adnan Kashoggi, the richest man in the world—who was later revealed to be an international arms dealer. Never shown, never shod, gelded at 8, possibly got his first under-saddle training at 16 or 17. He had heaves, from moldy hay, or a damp barn, and he could never have hay again.
Turned out, that wasn’t true. His heave trigger was not hay, but a mold that only blossomed in the fall. He dodged it for years, only having one flare-up that I can recall. He had “tick fever” twice, and colicked once, and got kicked in the ribs. His face went gray. When he was 32, he started showing symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome, and he was on daily meds for the rest of his days.
He wasn’t well started for riding. He was started late, and may not have had much time to learn to carry a rider. I was told he had learned to buck. He was anxious about having a person on his back. But on the ground, he trusted me. He was on the long line when a sapling started to fall beside the ring. I halted him, talked to him, dared not go near him because I knew he would bolt when the tree fell. He did, I dropped the line and let him go. He didn’t run away from me. He stayed on the circle around me. Scared, cantering, but listening to me. He came down to a trot, so I gave him an “Aaaaand walk.”—and he did! So I gave him a “Ho!”, and he stopped. I picked up the line, and walked toward him, folding up the line as I went. And told him what a good boy he was!
I didn’t care about riding him. I had less time, he was afraid of being ridden. I didn’t have to be on his back to enjoy being with him.
We used the ground poles to learn his prepositions: He could do “over”. Any horse can do that. And of course he could do “around.” But as an Arab, he could do “between” like nobody’s business We’d walk between two poles, turn tight around the end and walk between the next set. He was nimble—but I always had to tell him to pick his feet up when we came back into the stall! Every time.
His stall window looked into the chicken coop. And at the end, when he was in the small pasture where the other horses could not chase him, he hung out by the neighbor’s outdoor chicken coop. I went down to see him, and heard the hens singing quietly. Cash liked chickens. I’m so glad he had that!
He was 34 years, one day shy of 6 months when I got the call every horse owner dreads: 5:15 in the morning, from the barn. Something was wrong, I might want to come out. The vet confirmed what I already knew.
He went surrounded by those he had known for years, his vet, the farm owner, me. I stood where he could see me, and he pointed his ears at me, which horse people know means he was looking at me. All I could see was that big white star, shining in the early morning light.
Rest in Peace, Cash.
Click here I’ve been visiting quilt shops with my sister—and my mom—for years, and collecting fabric of all sorts. Some for stenciling on, some for rag rugs, some just because it took my fancy, with a vague plan to someday make a Calandran quilt.Well, Druyan weaves, and Elisena spins, and she wove Tristan a self-repairing cloak—but I don’t have a sense of them as quilters. I can appreciate a quilt both for design and craftsmanship—I have been to a lot of quilt shows, and my sister is a fine quilter. But the plan for a Calandran quilt would not come together.
Came this year’s Canfield Fair Fine Arts newest specialty category: Textile Tapestry: “An art quilt is a stitched and layered textile incorporating any material and employing any technique. Explore the many options of felting, weaving, embroidery, quilting or needlework using non-traditional, creative techniques.”
Tapestries. Of a manageable size, and more useful than a bed-sized quilt. I decided to quilt portraits of Tristan and Elisena. I used the fabric I’d collected—and I created some. I had heat-set fabric crayons. I sketched pieces for the portraits, Tristan and Elisena of course—but also Thomas. I had a stash of quilting fabric and samples of drapery fabric—sheer silk/metallic cloth that I could layer over other pieces. I used hand-dyed fleece to needlefelt a full moon. One of my hand-cut stencils is a unicorn. There are two unicorns stenciled on the tapestry—the first, gold one is hidden, because I decided it should be white pearl, and on a square of green silk. There’s dupioni silk too, and silver tissue, and dried laced-out leaves and some fresh-cut lavender.
Tristan has the moon and the unicorn—That’s for Moonshine, his early adventure when he and Thomas first met. Thomas is there, and Minstrel. And chickens, carefully cut from farm-theme fabric. There’s Valadan, the Warhorse of Esdragon. Tristan’s pouch of magic stones and feathers, with a real quartz crystal. There’s a beach, for his beach-combing habit. There’s mended denim there, and shortbread. There’s cloud batik fabric, because Tristan’s a weather-witch. The Sword of Calandra is there, in silver lame and dupioni silk.
Elisena is surrounded by botanicals, because that is her power. Her drop spindle with the flying birds is there, because it’s terribly important to her, even though she isn’t seen spinning in any of the books. There lavender stitched in, as well as lavender-print fabric, because lavender is her signature scent. And the Ten Rings of Allaire are there, every one of them, painted on silk and embellished with dyed wool. Yarn, hand-spun on my dealgan, a Scottish drop spindle, roams over all and binds it together.
Tristan’s portrait is covered with drapery silk tissue, and when I pulled it from the sample header, it tore. I chose to regard that rip as a happy accident, and placed it over Tristan’s left cheekbone, where Polassar punched him when they went into Radak. Where he met Elisena. Tristan’s face is veiled with the silk tissue—because he’s been hidden his whole life.
No one casually wandering through Fine Arts knew any of this. You have to have read the books. These are character tapestries.
They pleased the judges, though. Tristan got the blue ribbon, and Elisena the red. Now the Fair’s done, the tapestries are home, and I have to decide where to hang them!to edit.
Tour de Fleece
The Tour de Fleece runs from July 1st to July 24th in whatever time zone you are in.
It’s a group of spinners who—originally—spun on their spinning wheels while the cyclists were riding in the Tour de France. If it was a mountain day for the riders, the spinners would set themselves challenges—learn a new method, try a new fleece or a new wheel.
If the riders rested, the spinners also rested. I’m sure there were elements
of competition and endurance, but competition was really more a Spinzilla thing:
how much yarn can I—or my team—spin in a week?
Now, the Tour de Fleece Facebook Group spinners set all sorts of goal for ourselves.
I feel the important one is to support each other. (We have at least one from Ukraine—she’s spinning dog fur to make belts for the soldiers!) This is my first Tour, and I’ll be living my normal life: working full time, taking care of my English Shepherd,
my cat and my 34-year old Polish Arabian horse. I’ll read. I’ll sleep.
I will most likely be serving Jury Duty. I will celebrate my birthday, go to church, and prepare art to sell at Confluence, the Pittsburgh Science Fiction Convention.
I drop-spindle, so I can spin where I like.
I am hardly focused on how much yardage I can spin.
My plan is to give a Tour of a Fleece and how I use it.
I taught myself to drop-spindle in the mid 1970s—I made myself a spindle from a wooden crochet hook and a stacking toy’s wooden ring, and I begged some fleece from a woman in a pottery class I was taking. Hildy, her name was.
(The sheep. How like me, that I only remember the sheep’s name!) It was super hard to find fleeces in those days—wool disappeared into “the Pool”. No Amazon. No Etsy. When I did find fleeces, I didn’t understand cleaning and storing, and the moths got them. I went to a wool sale in Mercer County, and bought a bottom-whorl drop spindle, wool cards, and half a Corriedale fleece from a ewe that had “just had twins”. I still didn’t know how to scour a fleece, but I played with dyes a bit—onion skins, and Rit, and Kool-Aid and the simmering and the vinegar took care of moths. I spun a very, very little, mostly demonstrating at craft events. Then I found my tribe—the Canfield Spinner’s Guild—and through them, the FarmPark.
The Lake MetroParks FarmPark is in Chardon, Ohio, and that’s where I bought my first raw fleece from a named sheep: “Jake, Jacob wether”. (Jacobs are spotted sheep, white, black, brown, and wethers are neutered males.) Dollar a pound. I was hooked. I bet I bought six fleeces that first year! Much as I enjoyed trying every kind of fleece I could get my hands on—Shetland, Gotland, Angora Goat, Scottish Blackface, Cheviot, Blueface Leicester, I loved Jake’s fleece, and wanted to get it again. Some years I managed it, some years I didn’t. I sought Jake out at the FarmPark, and found him doing his job as the “minder” for Pete, their Jacob ram, he of the three massive horns. I got Pete’s fleece a couple of times. And for what was to be Jake’s final fleece before his retirement to another farm after Pete had passed away—well, Jake wasn’t even shorn by the Shearing Weekend in 2016. I made arrangements to buy the fleece when it was off of Jake’s back, and checked out the other fleeces offered for sale. I fell in love with a giant bag of fluff labeled “Finn”. It was lovely, and cost more than I had ever paid for a fleece. (Might have cost as much as all my first-year purchases put together.) Turned out, it wasn’t from a Finnsheep at all, but from Chevy, their new ram, presumed to be a Cheviot cross if not pure Cheviot. The fleece weighed 13 pounds—which for someone used to 6 pound Jacob fleeces was huge. And I know I heard someone say “we should have expected it, his hogget fleece was 11 pounds.” (A hogget is a year-old sheep, so basically a first fleece.)
When Jake was shorn, I went back to Chardon to pick up his fleece, and I was offered part of a nice fleece that they wanted a hand-spinner to try. They let me pick 5 pounds out of an 11 pound fleece, and it was indeed lovely stuff. I am convinced it is Chevy’s 2015 hogget fleece. (Because remember, I had just started working with Chevy’s fleece from 2016.)
This bit of the hogget fleece, I dyed with a cold-water dye. I normally use “acid” dyes, the acid being vinegar. I remember I didn’t have whatever I was supposed to add to the cold-water dye, so I didn’t get an intense color. Maybe just as well. This bit is interesting, and spins into a great yarn. It also makes a nuanced fleece to needlefelt with—crimpy locks, color shading up and down them. I am needlefelting a background fabric for an entry for the Canfield Fair Art Show, a new Fine Arts category called “Textile Tapestry”. The pieces are all going to be based on my books.
I have obtained Chevy’s fleece several times since 2016—every time it was possible to do so. And I’ve met him, seen him both shorn and not-yet shorn. Turns out he’s a real friendly sheep, and when his duties with the ewes are done, he hangs out by the Visitor’s Center with his “minder” Micro, happy to be a wooly ambassador. An ambassador who eats corn off the cob faster than you can believe!
What if he doesn’t come back?
Kess tossed her head. As if Leith would even find Esdragon without Valadan’s help. The Warhorse would certainly carry him back to her. She turned the moonstone ring on her finger, caressing the warm silver.
If he wanted to come back. No, he’d refused to leave her, no matter how she’d striven to shed him. And she was his luck—if he tried to venture anything other than a great circle back to her, his curse would return full-force. At least so Leith believed. She had never set much store by his curse, herself, but it was what he believed that mattered. That was how curses worked.
She did not do well in idleness. Kess glared at the sea-stained chest of precious fabrics, lighter by a great length of velvet that shifted between palest pink, blue, lavender and silver, the cloth she had selected for her gown. She was of Esdragon, she knew shipwrecks. Ill-luck had less to do with them than the power of the sea and foolish captains who dared its waves incautiously. But to be reunited with the very chest a prince had been carrying to his promised bride…that made one believe in luck. It did not do much to divert her. She turned the ring again. The moonstone shone as it caught the light.
Who had she been, that king’s daughter they were packing their prince off to wed? Had she been a beauty?
Well, he didn’t get to her, did he? His ill-luck stopped him. In fact, prevented his ever meeting her. And Leith was not such a fool as to regret that. She’d see to it he never did. If she ever saw him again.
She had no pastimes, that was the trouble. She’d rather go riding than pick up a needle and attempt embroidery. And she couldn’t ride out—Leith had the horse, while she was mewed in the inn. She could read, but books were for the rich, or they were ledgers for men of business. The inn offered neither. There might be singing, card-playing, in the taproom below—and plenty of trouble to find there, but she had no heart for it.
There was a discreet tap at her door.
“Go away! I’m not hungry!” He could never be back so soon, and she was ashamed of how her heart had leapt—and fallen. Where was her pride? Why was she hiding in the shuttered dimness? She was free to take her meals in the common room, or walk the city if she chose. Alone. She found no delight in the prospect. She missed Leith. How had that happened? And then she felt a flush rise to her face.
“Go away!” She wouldn’t be able to eat a bite, no matter how tasty the inn’s food was. Nor sleep—she felt tight as a bowstring, ready to snap. And she feared it would be worse when they reached Esdragon…
“My lady, they told me the gown had been sent. May I come in?”
Kess said nothing. She did not require to have her gown fitted. She’d tried it already. She had insisted on a style she could manage to don without a maid’s help, no laces up the back. And one she could ride in. She was Duchess of Esdragon, not some cloistered princess.
She had asked Leith to bring her one of her father’s horses—another reason he could not be back so soon. None of the coursers was swift as Valadan, and the palfreys were bred for smooth gaits, not speed. If he insisted on a palfrey…which he might. He’d probably choose by color, so white, or cream. None of the coursers had coats of either color, that she recalled. Maybe he’d let Valadan choose. There was hope of that. He wouldn’t choose a tame lady’s mount for her.
“My lady, I’m not the maid. I haven’t brought your dinner. I am a portrait painter.” A pause. “I’ve been hired to paint you. In the gown. If it’s here?” Another pause. “The cloth merchant said it had been delivered.”
Someone saw the gown being delivered, and a ruse was launched! Now there was a diversion! Kess lifted the latch and jerked the door open. “Go away!”
A woman stood outside, feet planted, a basket over her arm. No tray of food. A seamstress, for sure.
But the short, silver-haired woman was also carrying a frame of hinged wood—an easel—as well as the basket—and that basket had a sheaf of paintbrushes poking out of it. “Paint my portrait?” Kess asked, frowning.
“The gentleman asked that I come as soon as the gown was delivered.” The woman juggled the easel through the doorway, forcing Kess to step back, or be bumped by the basket. “The tailor told me the gown had been sent this morning, so here I am.”
I’ve never had my portrait done. But this painter did not need to know that her father had not busied himself arranging a marriage for his only child and heir. “But…he knows what I look like.” Portraits were for marriages arranged between parties who had not met. Who might never actually meet. Princes and princesses, political alliances. Why would Leith want her portrait done? “Did the…gentleman…say I was to be painted in the gown?” Kess could not decide whether this was better or worse than a ruse. Had she opened her door to men bent on abducting her, demanding a ransom—she knew she could deal with that. But this…
“Actually, my lady, he said to wait till the gown was delivered, but that you were to choose what to wear. And that ‘twas why he chose me—the only woman painter in all the city.” She beamed at Kess. “He said there would be time only to paint what we name a pocket portrait.”
So it was no ruse. Kess felt an odd flutter in her stomach. Leith had found a way to divert her without wounding her pride. He hadn’t sent a minstrel to torment her with songs. He hadn’t sent her books of love-poetry to fling across the room. He wasn’t devious enough to send false abductors…or mad enough.
The painter fetched out an object that looked like a small book, two thin leaves of pale wood hinged at one side and latched at the other. Kess observed that with interest. Very small. Little of whatever she wore would show, post rider garb or gown. And latched.
Latched. So, a very private portrait. For Leith’s eyes only. And he gave her the choice of how private it needed to be…
Kess shook her hair free of its braid, let it cascade over her shoulders. She was his luck—and his Lady come to earth. There was a style to that, and her moon-pale hair was part of it. Under the night sky…the full moon above them…
“Is there light enough? Where shall I sit?”
The painter drew a tall stool over, sat Kess on it. The shutters were adjusted, a lamp was moved, the easel was positioned, pots of paint were set out. All was ready. “What about the gown?”
Why did he want a portrait anyway? Leith would see her every day, in one gown or another. What did he want to remember?
“Can you paint the moon in the sky behind me? A full moon?”
“As my lady chooses.” A stick of charcoal was moving busily over the panel.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s really daylight?”
“It doesn’t matter a bit. I watch the moon every night.” Now she was lifting a brush, as she squinted at Kess. The painter laid down the brush, crossed to Kess, posed her with gentle fingers, turning her head just so, lifting her chin. Repeated a moment later, as Kess fidgeted. The gown was draped over the trunk, shimmering in plain view.
“Should I fetch the gown?” the painter asked.
A very private portrait. Not to intrigue a stranger, nor to secure a betrothal. Not to offer a daughter like a prize cow at the fair. A portrait for Leith’s eyes only. Kess thought of their nights beneath the moon, the sky their only roof. His eyes, the green and the brown, looking into hers…and she knew what Leith wanted to remember.
She combed her fingers through her hair again. The moonstone ring caught on the ribbon that fastened her blue linen sark, and the loose knot came undone. She slipped the garment off, let it slide down over her shoulders. “We won’t bother with the gown,” Kess said. “Just the moon.”
Copyright Susan Dexter 2022
Sunflowers Under the Moon
Sunflowers for Ukraine!
This is my 100% wool needlefelt of Lanterman's Mill in Mill Creek Park, Youngstown, Ohio, under a full moon. I added the sunflowers last weekend, and it is being sent to the benefit for Ukraine sale at the Davis Family YMCA, 45 McClurg Road, Boardman, Ohio. Pieces start hanging April 10th. 100% of the proceeds will go to YMCA Ukraine, which has a presence in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava, Odessa and 20+ other Ukrainian cities.
Writer of epic fantasy with a wry twist. Fond of horses, dogs, cats, canaries, falcons and draft cider. Dedicated multi-tasker, I also paint with chalk pastels.